In a delightful, unique way I have never seen before, a film introduces producer Duke Theseus, his dreamy bride to be, Hippolyta, angry father Egeus, daughter starlet Hermia, suitors Demetrius and Lysander, jilted lover/writer/poet Helena, and student filmmakers of Athens Film Institute (AFI). Set the stage in Athens (i.e. Hollywood) and off we go to Echo Park Café, Venice Beach, the Woods, and Topanga Canyon Road by car and motorcycle.
The faerie king and queen wage war with each other for honor, disrupting nature itself. King Oberon sends his henchman-sprite Puck to fetch for him a magical flower, “Love-in-Idleness,” he will use to bewitch his Queen Titania for defying him. An acting company from AFI, and the four rival lovers flee to the Woods; there they are caught up in the faerie spells and the effects of the flower.
Purists, be warned! This film is Shakespeare served fresh! With pared down speeches, divvied up among characters, the lines do not slavishly follow the order of the original play. Yet it works, going right to the heart of the conflict. Adding to the fun, are cleverly inserted lines (Easter eggs) from other Shakespeare plays, lines by text message, Siri, posters, plaques, café poetry readings, and a studio room number mix-up at the Athens Film Institute.
There is no threat to Hermia of a death sentence or life of confinement. No adopted little Indian boy is there over which the faerie King and Queen fight. Yet fight they do! Enhanced by dramatic scenes of nature, Queen Titania’s speech about their debate bringing about climate change makes hers the most majestic speech of this film.
All the actors ferociously fight for what they want with an immediacy that make this my favorite production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Oberon smolders! He uses his smoke to fog the night. Puck uses cameras to spy on (and laugh at) the lovers. The faerie bower enchanted love scene with Titania and Bottom is dreamy but he has no donkey ears here: his ass-head is literal.
The boy - god Cupid played by an actor instead of a cartoon would have been more satisfying to me. 'Love-In-Idleness,' the magic flower is crimson in this film. (I prefer purple.) There is one unnecessary (barely audible) expletive spoken by Bottom near the end of the film. Yet these are, but quibbles compared to the amount of pleasure this film brings.
A welcome addition is a soft visual scene showing Demetrius becoming 'infected' with love for Hermia after touching Cupid's arrowhead. This added touch improves Demetrius, providing an explanation for his fickleness, allowing him to grow in awareness and love for Helena with or without magic. This film cast is perfect. Sets are gorgeous. Rondel and faerie songs are thrilling.
The mechanicals' brief film play, replete with scrolling errors, mispronunciations, jump cuts, along with the reactions of the newlyweds, is painfully droll. In the end, Puck once again reminds us that he is the one making this film from his editing suite. I wish that more faerie songs or more music from the Echo Park Café could have played through the credit roll. Oh! The cleverness of it all!